What World Leaders and Business Travelers Need to Know About Visiting China!

Cultural Tips for Visiting China 

What World Leaders and Business Travelers Need to Know! 

Success leaves clues, or in this case the lack of success leaves clues! Throughout history we’ve witnessed presidential “faux pas”, and this time President Obama added himself to the list when arriving in Beijing for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

He can be excused for choosing the security of a U.S. supplied vehicle over the Chinese-provided limousine service, however when he emerged from his vehicle chewing gum, I had to question the cultural preparation he had received for his visit. Although he frequently chews Nicorette gum to manage his smoking habit, this doesn’t bode well with the formal standards of the Chinese party leadership. He was unfortunately characterized as an “idler” and “rapper” on Chinese social media.

Chewing gum is considered impolite in China, but chewing gum wasn’t the only misstep. Upon his arrival, he shook hands and patted the backs of the Chinese delegates who greeted him. While those pats on the back are considered a sign of comradery and friendship in the U.S., they aren’t appreciated the same way in the Chinese culture.

The Chinese Communist Party launched a six-month campaign to educate the Beijing delegation on how to behave when welcoming world leaders for its biggest international event since the 2008 Summer Olympics. It was surprising that the leader of the most powerful nation in the world was the first to make headlines for cultural missteps.

A few tips on the cultural protocol in China could have avoided this embarrassment. World leaders and business travelers alike should keep the following points in mind when visiting China.

  • Avoid using any excessively demonstrative behavior or gesture. Don’t raise your voice too loud, or snap your fingers, wink, or whistle.
  • Chewing gum in public — especially at official or formal occasions, is considered impolite and uncultured.
  • China is not a “touching” culture, so avoid back patting, putting an arm around someone’s shoulders, hugs, and so on.
  • Handshaking is done with a rather gentle grip because a very firm handshake suggests aggression.
  • Good eye contact is appropriate, although it won’t be prolonged. The Chinese culture is taught to avert their eyes to avoid the intimidation.
  • Point with an open hand because pointing with an index finger is considered impolite.
  • Don’t blow your nose in a handkerchief or tissue and then put it in your pocket or handbag. This is considered unsanitary.
  • Don’t cause any type of embarrassment that could result in “loss of face”. “Face” is a bankable notion that is literally a statement of a person’s value.
  • Gentlemen — don’t cross your legs with your foot resting on your knee. It is considered disrespectful, and you may inadvertently point the sole of your shoe at someone – a real insult!

Emmy Award Winner, Gayle Cotton, is the author of this article and of the bestselling book, SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’, available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book. She is President of Circles Of Excellence for Corporate Education, and a distinguished Professional Keynote Speaker. Contact Gayle to be a conference speaker for your events! She is a cross cultural expert that will entertain and inspire audiences of all sizes with her fresh, unique, and humorous approach to cross-cultural communication and social business etiquette. Gayle travels worldwide from business bases in Texas and Switzerland.

To learn more about the Do’s & Taboos for international business, and the communication and business styles of Asia/Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East – order my bestselling book SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’ available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book

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